Civil Rights Leaders & Students to Gov. Brown: Time Is Now to Sign AB 420 and Fix ‘Willful Defiance’ Suspensions

Civil Rights RallySaying “school discipline is a civil rights issue,” students from across California told powerful personal stories about school suspensions in a rally on August 14 on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento.

They joined the nation’s top civil rights leaders including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Marian Wright Edelman who sent a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign AB 420, which will help fix the state’s school suspension gap. LGBT students, students of color and students with disabilities are all much more likely to be suspended than other students, and the impact on their education can be shattering.

Click here to read the letter to Gov. Jerry Brown from national civil rights leaders.

Cheyenne, an LGBT youth from Orange County, talked about being suspended when she spoke up to after another student was bullied with an anti-gay slur.

“I heard some kids making fun of another classmate. They called him a ‘faggot,’ and that was deeply offensive and I told them so,” she said. “The kids were trying to brush off what I said and we all started arguing, louder and louder. I got angry, and I cursed.”

Despite standing up against bullying, Cheyenne was suspended for willful defiance, a highly subjective category of California Education Code that accounts for nearly 50% of out of school suspensions.

As a foster youth, she could have meant losing her foster placement or being transferred to another school. “I had to beg for an in-school suspension,” she said. Cheyenne came to Sacramento with other youth from the Center OC, which works for equality for LGBT youth.

KCRA-Channel 3 covered the rally and interviewed Cheyenne and parents. Click here to watch the story at

Students delivered a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to sign AB 420 (Dickinson), which would help protect students’ civil rights and keep students in school.

Currently, LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to be suspended. African American students are nearly 4 times more likely to be suspended statewide. And students with disabilities are 2 times more likely to be suspended.

"I was introduced to willful defiance when I was 10."

“I was introduced to willful defiance when I was 10.”

Another young woman from San Joaquin said “I was introduced to willful defiance at age 10,” when she received a three day suspension. “I went home and did nothing, and when I came back I hadn’t changed, but the perception of me had.”

Standing in front of a sign that said “students who are suspended are 2x more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system,” she said she had landed in probation before getting connected with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin and getting back on track in school. Now, she said, she is known as “Smiles.”

AB 420 would ban suspensions of K-5 students like Smiles and promote alternatives such as restorative justice that would have helped Cheyenne avoid suspension and address bullying of LGBT students.

Groups supporting the rally included Center OC, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Public Counsel, the ACLU of California, Legal Services for Children, the Black Parallel School Board, and the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, and Youth Justice Coalition.

Press clips:

Los Angeles Times: Governor Brown urged to restrict suspensions for ‘willful defiance’

Sacramento Bee: Civil rights activists call for end to ‘willful defiance’ discipline

KCRA-3: Students rally to change California suspension policy

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